Gloriavale: New Zealand's Secret Cult

Peter Malone MSC 8 November 2022

Gloriavale is a New Zealand religious community, enclosed, resembling a cult, and has had accusations of abuse and legal action taken against the leaders.

GLORIAVALE: NEW ZEALAND’S SECRET CULT, New Zealand, 2022. The Ready family, the legal advisers. Directed by Fergus Grady, Noel Smyth. 89 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and references to child sexual abuse.)

New Zealanders are well aware of the story of Gloriavale, a religious community set up in 1969 by an Australian preacher, Arthur Cooper, who then renamed himself as Hopeful Christian. It drew a great number of people, as many as 600 at some times, including families.

In looking at the history of Gloriavale, it is clear that it ran along the patterns of many of the cult communities – a dominant leader who, in turn, hands the domination and leadership onto a group of stewards, call servants, who continue to be strict and dogmatic in their interpretation of the community regulations.

There have been several television series in the mid-2010 is, so audiences interested in cults and communities have an amount of material as background. This means that this is a different kind of documentary, acknowledging the success, acknowledging the difficulties, acknowledging the legal issues and court cases. In that sense, the audience is plunged into the action between 2019 and 2022. The film presupposes audience knowledge of Gloriavale, which is not necessarily the case, and many audiences would have found some initial information helpful.

The particular focus for this documentary is on one of the members of the community, John Ready, expelled from the community, trying to make contact with his wife who continues to be part of the community, eventually persuading his mother, who had been in the community for 50 years, to be interviewed and speak of her experiences. There are interviews with several other members of the family, including John’s sister. And, interviews with a number of other members who had become disillusioned.

The focus of the documentary is on John and his contact with the legal team, their investigations, their commitment, the building of the case over several years. The documentary is personalised by the enthusiasm of the legal team as well as John Reddy’s continual participation.

While the film’s action in is in 2022, up-to-date at the time of the film is release, it is something of a work in progress as are the investigations into Gloriavale and its leadership, its subjugation of its members, not considering them as workers to be paid, but rather as volunteers… (And, there is an alarming sequences, recorded, where the leadership give a dire interpretation of the Scriptures as regards the role of women and the forbidding of their interventions and contributions.)

There is a welcome on Gloriavale website telling visitors that they ‘are a practical group of people, bound together by a common faith in God and the hope of salvation’. But the website also includes a:

Public apology

On 27 May 2022, Gloriavale’s leadership issued a public apology for various sexual and child abuses and labour exploitations that occurred within their community. The leadership claimed that much had changed at Glorivale following the resignation of their previous leader and founder in 2018. The leadership agreed to allow young people to make decisions on whether to continue living at Gloriavale or moving out once they had matured. To address future sexual offending, the leadership established a ‘Child Protection Leads team’ that answered directly to Oranga Tamariki (the Ministry of Children). The leadership also claimed to have developed a new child protection policy which encouraged members to report acts of abuse to the Police, Child Protection Leads team, and Oranga Tamariki. They also claimed to have restructured their business operations to allow parents to spend more time with their children after 3pm.

On 31 May, two senior Gloriavale leaders Fervent Steadfast and Faithful Pilgrim resigned from their positions as senior community leaders following the public apology. Steadfast had previously served as Gloriavale’s financial controller and had been accused of mishandling employment issues within the community. Pilgrim had previously served as the Principal of Gloriavale Christian School until his resignation in 2020 for failing to protect pupils in his care.

Limelight Films
Released 4 November